Muhammad Huzaifa Nizam belongs to the rugged mountains of the Hindukush - although he grew up a bit south in the historical city of Peshawar in Pakistan. He is currently studying the skill of dentistry, but every moment that can be possibly spared from that he spends reading and writing about the lesser-known historical events and folklores from Pakistan. He has been reading about these since his childhood and started with writing threads on Twitter in 2019 before moving towards lengthy articles. Now, he is the proud founder of the Indus-Tales, an online archive of all of his research on history, folklore, and culture.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? How did you develop an interest in history and heritage? I’m a 20-year-old writer from the northwest of Pakistan who fosters a very deep fondness for history, folklore, culture, and literature. Professionally I’m pursuing my second year in dental surgery so I’m juggling with two very different worlds at the moment. As for my love for history and heritage, well that goes back a very long time to when I was around 9 years old and through sheer happenstance found a children’s version of the Odyssey in my school library. There began my spiral down the world of history and through that I was also introduced to Greek mythology which aided my later admiration for mythology and folklore.
Why did you create Indus Tales? The Indus Tales is a manifestation of a lifelong dream of helping foster a better relation and understanding of fellow Pakistanis with the immense history that our country has and the heritage that we have inherited from our ancestors. There are very few major outlets, magazines, or journals related to history which are readily available to Pakistanis. The Indus Tales is a solution to that, not only does it hold a multitude of topics covering many millennia of history and sections dedicated to the folklores and mythological elements found within the many ethnicities and cultures of Pakistan, but it is also just a click away. Every article with all its details, illustrations and photos, and references is openly available to everyone free of cost.
How can storytelling preserve heritage? Storytelling is by far one of the most effective methods of preserving heritage and there is no better example of it than the heritage of Pakistan itself. Written documentation of history scarcely occurred in our lands and the trend only began in the last few centuries. A great multitude of our heritage came down to us in the form of oral stories and much is still hidden in stories and nomenclature, some even in our linguistics. However, my primary aim is now to infuse the oral stories of yore with the best of my written capabilities to fully ossify the heritage and make it readily available. I believe storytelling is an art and one which is perfect for the creation of a liking for history in a populace that has never much paid heed to that side of the world.
You also explore Islamic history through storytelling, can you tell us more about some of the areas you have covered? The general apathy towards history in Pakistan means that many parts of our Islamic history too are somewhat forgotten. I have covered many such topics and by far my most favourite in our Islamic history has been on the contributions of the Indus Valley towards the Islamic Golden Age. The land of modern Pakistan was amongst the easternmost frontiers of the Abbasid caliphate and delegations from Sind to Baghdad carrying Sanskrit treatises helped usher the Islamic world into a new age. Many locals of Sind were famous personalities in the golden age such as Ibn Dahn who was the head physician of the Bimaristan of Baghdad and Kankah who helped in the creation of the famous Zij al Sindhind to name a few. Some other interesting topics I’ve covered is the Lost Kingdom of Al Usaifan and the tale of the interactions between Caliph Harun al-Rashid and Sindhi Buddhists. I plan on covering many more In Shaa Allah.
As Pakistan is a relatively new county, how do you address this in terms of preserving heritage in relation to identity forming? I believe heritage and history form the most significant part of a nation’s identity and it is imperative for nascent nations like Pakistan to work towards incorporating history into their national identity. From an outsider’s point of view a nation of many differing ethnicities and languages with various geographic features held together just by a common religion seems unorthodox. But once one studies the history and sees that all ethnicities have shared the same religion and same geographic area (that is the Indus Basin) for a thousand years and has an entire millennium worth of interactions and much more intertwined history, it starts to make sense how natural the nation is.
What can storytelling tell us about the cultural diversity of Pakistan? Pakistan is perhaps one of the most multi-ethnic countries in the world and storytelling is one of the many ways in which we bring forth the many colours present in the canvas that we refer to as Pakistan. Our stories have in them our values, traditions, and every little intricacy of our cultures. As a Pashto saying goes: “Half of a nation’s culture is stored in their language.” How do you source your content and come up with ideas? Due to the dearth of written accounts of Pakistan’s history and folklore it is quite difficult to find details on many topics yet it isn’t impossible. Various people from Pakistan and other countries have written upon these subjects which is why nearly all of what I know and write about comes from Books and journals. A few folktales are based off of oral accounts that I hear from people from time to time.
What is the most well received piece of content you have created for Indus Tales? My work on the Indus Valley and the Islamic Golden Age. The piece is about 3000 words long and took me nearly a year to complete. It is by far one of my most detailed works and one which I am very proud of writing since it helped unravel a part of Pakistan’s history is very few have ventured into in the past. To be able to add to and look at Pakistan’s marvelous Islamic history from a local point of view is a reward in itself. Is storytelling and folklore still a part of Pakistani culture? It very much is, especially in the Punjab where old romantic folk tales are still told with the traditional music as it has been for centuries. The traditions aren’t as strong in the urban areas as it in their rural counterparts. People who belong to regions associated with folk tales still remember them. Tales of dragons in Chapursan, warrior kings in Baltistan, faeries in Chitral, romances in Makran, haunted mountains in Quetta and many more are still a part of people’s conscious.
Can you share your aspirations and plans for the future? I intend on writing and reading as much as I can whilst maintaining a balance with my professional studies. Eventually I plan on extending the platform to others who share my fondness of these subjects and In Shaa Allah to put all of this knowledge in a book some day. How can digital platforms like Indus Tales help us to develop the future of Islamic art, culture and heritage? I believe digital platforms are the future of heritage and all matters linked to it. Hundreds of thousands of people have access to a plethora of subjects at the touch of a screen. Allowing people to connect, protecting heritage by writing about it, and making it available to everyone shall be something that people in the future shall thank us for doing. Every generation has played its part in protecting their heritage and history, I belief this shall be our part.
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